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It's a new year and a new Xchanger in London. For the first blog, I'm going to try and bypass some of the information that's already been presented to you from previous Xchangers in regards to the HKS London office location and surroundings. Needless to say though, for those of you whom already know me it's been overwhelming - but not in a negative way. For those who don't, I've grown up in a town just outside of Richmond, Virginia and have only spent a few days in a city as large and busy as London. To put it into perspective, I'm use to two-lane roads and sweet tea. London is far from that. The city is constantly alive and you need to be on your toes to follow suit (the center picture above is Picadilly Circus at night and gives you an idea of this).
I've been here about a week and a half. In the office, everyone's been very welcoming and helpful in getting me acclimatised to the area. Thus far, I've been helping on some smaller interior renovation projects. The reuse of existing spaces and maintaining the architecture already in place is much more important here. It's a different mind set than what I've experienced in the U.S.; it being cheaper to demolish and rebuild. However, there has definitely been a surge in the U.S. of reusing existing spaces and maintaining the integrity of what we already have. I've also found it interesting how much more liability the contractor has here when taking on a job when compared to the liabilities the architect must endure back home. In some cases, this extends all the way to having the contractor liable for their own construction details. Shocking, isn't it?
The first couple of weekends, I kept things fairly local in my travels. Above, there are pictures of the first two places I ventured out to see - The Natural History Museum and the Darwin Center (attached to the museum). I do not have a long list of museums that I've been to in the U.S. to compare to, but the architecture in the museums here speak for themselves. The massive size of the entries and main lobbies themselves are enough to leave you in a state of 'wow'. Unfortunately, I've run into exhibitions that are closed almost everywhere I've been, mainly because this isn't really 'on-season' for tourists. But, I have been far from disappointed.
On a different note, I can be a bit of geek at times as well. I enjoy the engineering side of our profession sometimes just as much as the architectural. I took the time to venture out east to the Thames Barrier. For many, this barrier is a modern marvel of the engineering world. It acts as the floodplains of Eastern London's defense against rising waters and is the second largest movable flood barrier in the world. The gates are semi-circular and rotate up out of the water like a wheel into place (closed). They are used mainly for tide changes and surges from the Atlantic and North Sea. The timing of my visit to the barrier was in line with a recent historic weather pattern that came through the area before I arrived. Over Christmas, a disasterous weather system likened to a hurricane in strength came through and flooded much of the floodplains and low lying areas in the greater London area. All of the barrier's gates were closed for days in an attempt to reduce the flooding.
On a final note, I've decided to take a different approach to conveying some personal thoughts on my experience here thus far, the area I'm living in and commuting, and my own take on London. In an ode to sports writer Peter King of SI, here are 10 things I think I think:
What I miss most (besides friends and family of course): My Pontiac GTO. The area the flat is in, is very well off (so to speak). Seeing all the Maseratis, Porsches, Ferraris, Audis, Bentleys and Aston Martins... daily!.. it makes me miss my sportscar back home. I did see a bright yellow Chevy Camaro. Won't see many of those around here.
What I miss the least: Taxes at the time of purchase. For the most part, what you see on the tag is what you pay (and it's usually rounded to a factor of 5 pence). It likely is already included but, you aren't bothered by a sales tax, food tax, city, taxes, first-born tax, or wearing the color blue tax when you check out. It's no wonder the dollar coins and, well, coin change in general isn't used much in the U.S. - you'll never have exact change.
Michael Cochran - HKS Richmond, VA